Republican Missouri lieutenant governor Peter Kinder wants you to know a few things about his opponent, incumbent Democrat Jay Nixon. "We have never seen pay for play like it's going on now in Missouri," Kinder tells The American Spectator. And of the crowd of playmakers surrounding Nixon? "It's a tight little circle."
Kinder is the presumptive Republican nominee for the governorship in 2012 ("It's no secret to the people of Missouri that I'm interested in this race. I'll have my announcement one way or another in four to eight weeks after I meet with Republicans across the state"). He is also -- and let's just get it out of the way -- the high-profile target of some allegations made by former stripper and Penthouse Pet Tammy Chapman. She alleged that at one time Kinder was a regular strip-club patron, and he may or may not have offered to let her live in his condo. When asked about it, he calls it "stuff from almost twenty years ago" and the media scrutiny around it "the politics of personal destruction."
Granted, Kinder's last photographed appearance with Chapman at Verlin's in the Grove district occured more recently than almost twenty years ago. But what Governor Nixon is doing, Kinder insists, is worse.
"The firm is called Carey, Danis and Lowe," Kinder tells me. He's referring to the Clayton law firm that overshadowed Kinder's big Sep. 7 Karl Rove fundraiser by cutting Governor Nixon a quick $100,000 check -- just $60,000 less than Kinder picked up at his entire event. "Their two lead partners -- this is a matter of public record -- were suspended in 2002 by the Missouri Supreme Court from the practice of law…They used proprietary information to sue Chrysler… what they did was sufficiently egregious to get someone disbarred. Instead, they were re-instated by the Supreme Court… Carey and Danis are known to be unsavory characters."
According to a 2004 "Civil Justice Study" conducted by the Illinois Civil Justice League:
In November 2002, attorneys Jack Carey and Joseph Danis were suspended by the Missouri Supreme Court for one year, for "prosecuting product liability class actions against their former client, Chrysler Corporation." In 1995, after spending years defending Chrysler Corporation from class action lawsuits, Carey and Danis left a corporate defense firm, Thompson & Mitchell, to start their own personal injury firm. Later, they sued Chrysler, switching sides. The Missouri Supreme Court found that Carey and Danis engaged in professional misconduct by switching sides in the case and for making false discovery responses. The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission similarly suspended them for six months.
So Kinder is suspicious of Nixon's inner circle. But shouldn't Kinder technically be part of that inner circle? After all, his lieutenant governorship predates Nixon's own term by four years.
"In November 2008, the day after the election, I called Governor Nixon. I said, 'Congratulations. I'm here, and I'm offering you my help.' We had a three and a half minute conversation, and that was the only time we've talked substantively in 34 months, except for one time, in July of 2009, when I forced the issue."
As Kinder sees it, Governor Nixon was declaring war from day one. So with Nixon's approval ratings fluctuating across the 50-percent line, Kinder thinks it time to fight back. Elected to the State Senate over a former First Lady in 1992, he was elevated to President Pro Tempore after engineering a Republican majority grab in special elections in February 2001. He promptly, as he says, "trimmed the Senate budget to get rid of ghost employees and senators' girlfriends." He was first elected Lieutenant Governor in 2004. Kinder is an experienced dealmaker on the state level -- and well-connected.
"Karl [Rove] and I are longtime friends," Kinder says of his high-profile fundraiser. "I became aware of him when he was [executive director] of the College Republican National Committee. I went to see him speak on a bleak winter weekend in 1974, the Watergate year. Karl was an amazing and mesmerizing figure."
So Rove's Sep. 7 appearance for Kinder in Cape Girardeau wasn't a last-ditch effort by national Republicans to save their presumptive candidate from, as the Washington Post suggested, a "doomed" fate?
"No, I organized for Governor Bush's campaign with Karl in 1999," Kinder replies. "He hired a lifelong friend of mine. Karl and I spent a weekend together that predated my event by 14 months. I introduced him at a Heritage Foundation dinner in July. That's where we started planning our fundraiser."
And for all the tabloid attention, Kinder just held his two biggest fundraisers. "I had never raised more than $40,000 in Springfield," Kinder says, "I just raised $90,000 there with 180 people." So the fact that Nixon reportedly has a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage, at this point in the campaign, should not be troubling. Nor apparently should a reported Nixon lead in the polls. "This is very early in the campaign. Non-incumbent candidates are always behind in the polls starting out," says Kinder, who confirms that he has hired Linda DiVall's polling firm. "This is a jobs election, and we're seeing lousy polling for Obama and weak-to-lousy polling for Governor Nixon on the jobs issue."
Nor should we be concerned that businessman David Humphreys -- a Kinder donor to the tune of $165,000 -- has withdrawn his support over the Chapman allegations. Kinder says he doesn't understand why Humphreys is upset. And he claims to be on good terms with Republican state legislator Kevin Elmer, who wrote a public letter calling on Kinder to bow out of the race for the sake of the party. ("It's interesting that no one else joined him on that letter," Kinder observes.)
"[Kinder] called a couple days after I sent the letter out," Elmer tells the Spectator. "He didn't express any animosity toward me. We had a civilized conversation, but I also told him that I don't have faith that he's the right candidate…I believe in my heart of hearts that he can be beat. Republicans need to put up a strong candidate without all these peripheral issues that weaken him."
Some in local media murmured that Elmer might have had an ulterior motive in writing that letter because his first cousin is married to Sarah Steelman, a Missouri politician once floated as a potential 2012 gubernatorial candidate. "That's ridiculous," Elmer replies. "Quite frankly, that irritates me a great deal."
Elmer doesn't doubt Kinder's leadership, only his post-scandal electability. He knows as well as anyone that Kinder created and led the Republican Senate majority that now stands at 26 to 7 (to go along with a Republican House majority that expanded by 17 seats in 2010), and that he served effectively for four years as second-in-command under Governor Matt Blunt (2005-2009), the son of friendly but so far non-endorsing U.S. Senator Roy Blunt.
"I'm thrilled to get a $25,000 check from Emerson [Electric Co.], headquartered in Ferguson, Missouri. I'm thrilled to get a check from Enterprise Rent-a-Car." He rattles off a list of corporate donors that sound nothing at all like law firms, and a whole lot like potential local job-creators.
"I think people in Missouri, for the most part, are not paying attention to what the national media is saying," says Kinder.
After all, they've known him for years, and in the last gubernatorial election less than three million votes ended up being cast. Are the doomsayers at the Washington Post accurate, or merely bored?
"This is a very early point in what is going to be a late-deciding race," says Kinder. "I'm going to keep traveling the state and visiting with Republicans."
And no, he won't be speaking with the governor.